Over the years I've bounced among art, music, and writing, the third of these being mainly parasitic to the first two. Meaning, I don't write so much to tell a story as to grapple with some art idea.
My college years were happily spent studying all the arts. This was back when you could have a "life of the mind" without going deeply into debt.
I took classes in music appreciation, electronic music (with a focus on composing), poetry- and fiction-writing, and history, in addition to my "majors" in studio art and English lit. I had a weekly FM radio show for my entire four years in school, and was music director and then program director of the station.
This was "free form radio" of the WFMU variety (which started as a college station) where I played jazz, prog rock, classical, and the beginnings of punk, postpunk and electronic pop. The mid-'70s were contentious times in music, with battle lines drawn, and people would call the station and berate the DJ for playing Cecil Taylor or Van Der Graaf Generator, depending on which set of sensibilities those artists offended. Fans of The Stooges despised fans of Kraftwerk, etc.
I wrote a couple of music reviews for the college newspaper and did some music "zine" writing. The newspaper reviews were well-regarded by the editors and I received calls fairly regularly asking if I could please submit more. By that point I was cramming a studio art major into my last year and a half of school and had no time or inclination to write.
My first newspaper review described a campus pub concert by Grits, a Washington DC-area band that played rock of Zappa-esque complexity. Grits never got a record contract, which seems to have devastated them personally, but are remembered on some later-released CDs, including a fairly representative live concert [YouTube]. I also reviewed Mike Oldfield's third LP in a piece titled "Ommadawn Suffers from Overdubbing." For Hal Dean's music zine Brilliant Corners I did an overview of Soft Machine's career.
For my literary studies I was lucky to have three classes with Daniel Albright, a consistently brilliant scholar and critic who later achieved fame as a musical theorist. My classes were The Experimental Novel (Lawrence, Woolf, Pynchon, Nabokov, Beckett, et al), The Aesthetic Movement (Tennyson, Arnold, Wilde, Hopkins) and 20th Century British Poetry (Eliot, Yeats, Pound). I asked Albright to be my faculty adviser and he gave his somewhat befuddled consent. (A condescending grad student supervising undergrad majors asked "Did you just wander into his office?") Albright and I had very little interaction; if anything he made me realize I didn't want to be an English prof because I could never delve into the minutiae of other artists' lives and works to the extent he did. I felt that to be original I would have to be that voracious and I was grossly overmatched. Nevertheless his A- grade and the "well written indeed" he jotted on a paper I wrote on Eliot kept me in high spirits for years.
My best grades and greatest enthusiasm came in Studio Art classes. I had some initial discouragement in the classes of Bob Barbee, a life drawing and painting instructor who taught classical technique deprived of anything resembling joy (another prof noted that all his students' paintings were anatomically correct "mud women" rendered in burnt umber and lead white). Then, I discovered I could paint photorealistically in oils, and quickly got a handle on printmaking methods, and was able to start building a body of my own characteristic work. We majors had weekly seminars where we took field trips to Washington DC art galleries and museums and did slide talks on the minimal and conceptual art trends we found there. I did a talk on Daniel Brush, who combined Color Field and minimalist ideas and subsequently had an under-the-radar career making objects in pure gold for a wealthy, discreet clientele. He is in most ways my opposite but I spoke passionately about his straight line paintings made with a fountain pen on canvas.
[to be continued]